Category Archives: Baptism

The Only Thing that Matters – September 11, 2017

Life is fleetingly short. The minutes and seconds of our earthly lives are trickling down inexorably like grains of sand falling through the hourglass. Christ on his judgment seat holds the hourglass for each of our lives, watching, and waiting for that moment when we shall, at last, appear before him. Only he knows how many grains of sand of time are left for us. We must be ready at any moment. That is why Christ declares “behold, now is the day of salvation.” In a world where “all is vanity,” we must cut through the fog of sin and meaninglessness, and seize the weightiest of matters, in fact, the only thing that matters – the salvation of our souls.

Jesus said what does it profit a man to gain the whole world but forfeit his life? Our goal is not this world or this life. Our goal is eternal life in the world to come. Jesus spoke of this often, comparing it to a wedding feast. In the great revelation given to St. John, he was caught up into heaven and beheld the joy of the saints at the wedding feast of Christ. An angel spoke to him “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” (Rev. 19:9) St. John wrote about these blessed ones of the Church as the Bride of Christ, saying she “has made herself ready; it was granted her to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure.” (Rev. 19:8) The saints are ready because of the way they are “clothed.” But, what is this clothing and why is it “fine linen, bright and pure?” Simply put, this is the divine, sanctifying grace of Jesus Christ.

We must be covered and clothed with the supernatural grace of Christ. Those with the proper “wedding garments” are saved, and those without them are condemned. Jesus himself alluded to this in a disturbing aspect of the wedding banquet parable:

“But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment; and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.’ (Mt. 22:11-13)

Time is short to be ready for the eternal wedding feast. The only thing that matters is that at the moment of death we are clothed with sanctifying grace.

The opposite of being clothed is being naked. We find nakedness in the Garden of Eden. When Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit, Original Sin, their eyes were opened “and they knew that they were naked.” (Gen. 3:7) They were exposed and ashamed before God. There is a curious scene too, in another garden, the Garden of Gethsemane, the night Jesus was betrayed and seized by the Roman soldiers. As all this happened, scripture says, “And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body; and they seized him, but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked.” (Mk. 14:51-52) Sin has left us all naked and exposed to damnation. St. Paul spoke of this too, saying “Here indeed we groan, and long to put on our heavenly dwelling, so that by putting it on we may not be found naked.” (2 Cor. 5:2-3) Yet, it matters not what sins we may have committed in the past. Nothing is beyond the mercy of God, as long as we sincerely seek his forgiveness through the repentance of our sins.

So, we must be clothed from on high by the Holy Spirit, but how?

Sanctifying grace is conferred onto us through faith in Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit in the sacraments of the Church, which are necessary for our salvation. (CCC 1129) The seven sacraments of the Church are, of course: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders, and Matrimony. These are the means by which we put on our wedding garments of fine linen, bright and pure.

All of the sacraments are eminently efficacious and necessary for the life of the Church. However, I would like to focus here on just three sacraments, which are so necessary for the world today, and for our individual souls, and yet, are so sorely neglected. Jesus’ prayer from the Cross is apt “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” Or, in our case, we know not what we squander.

As far as we know, St. John was the only Apostle to hear these words from the Lord as he was crucified. He remained at the foot of the Cross, and did not flee like the other Apostles. He was the disciple whom the Lord loved. He was entrusted with the care of Mary the mother of God after Jesus died. He rested his head close to Jesus’ Sacred Heart at the Last Supper. He was the only Apostle not martyred, and so, lived to a wise old age, reflecting deeply for his whole life on the words of Christ. This deep meditation poured forth in the pages of his gospel when he wrote about the sacraments, especially Baptism, the Eucharist, and Confession.

In the third chapter of John’s gospel he writes about Baptism and being “born again.” The conversation, of course, is between Jesus and Nicodemus. Jesus tells him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (Jn. 3:5) Baptism is the basis for the whole Christian life and “the gateway to life in the Spirit.”

Three chapters later John writes about the Eucharist in the Bread of Life discourse. In it, Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” (Jn. 6:53-54) The Eucharist is our food of immortality.

Later in his gospel he writes about Confession and the power to forgive sins. He says about the Resurrected Jesus: “And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (Jn. 20:22-23) This sacrament of divine mercy renders us into a state of grace. Baptism, the Eucharist and Confession are so vital, so necessary in the everyday life of a soul. These are the channels of sanctifying grace by which we put on the wedding garments of Christ. To neglect these is to neglect the state of our souls, and to jeopardize our place of eternal life in heaven.

This is the only thing that matters: When we die, will we be clothed in the wedding garments of Christ, or not? This requires us to earnestly pursue the weightiest of matters: repentance, conversion, sanctity, holiness, and saintliness. We are men and women of God, called to strive to enter through the narrow gate, to pray ceaselessly, to cling to the truth always, and to serve one another. The way of the disciple is to renounce the vanities of this world and to embrace the Cross of Christ.

St. John quotes Christ in the Book of Revelation about keeping our garments white and clean: “He who conquers shall be clad thus in white garments, and I will not blot his name out of the book of life; I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.” (Rev. 3:5-6) And again, concerning our garments and Christ’s Second Coming: “Lo, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is he who is awake, keeping his garments that he may not go naked and be seen exposed!” (Rev. 16:15) It is up to us to keep our wedding garments of fine linen, bright and pure. We do this by taking refuge in the sacraments of the Church; and going to Confession frequently, and receiving Jesus in the Holy Eucharist often.

The Blood and Water of the Sacred Heart of Jesus – June 2, 2016

It was at the Last Supper that John, the disciple “whom Jesus loved,” reclined on the Sacred Heart of Jesus. (Jn. 13:23) Just hours later, at the foot of the Cross, it was John again who witnessed Jesus’ Sacred Heart being pierced by a lance. He noted that one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.” (Jn. 19:34) The early Church Fathers interpret the blood and water sacramentally, as symbols of the blood of the Eucharist and the waters of Baptism. The sacraments and the Church sprung from the wound of Christ’s Heart. St. Augustine makes the connection that just as Eve was drawn from the side of Adam during his “deep sleep” (Gen. 2:21), so too, was the Church, the bride of Christ, drawn from the side of Jesus in His death. It is in the waters of Baptism and the blood of the Eucharist that the Church is born and sustained. The Church appropriately venerates the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which “He allowed to be pierced by our sins,” as the definitive symbol of divine love towards humanity. (CCC 2669)

The 1956 encyclical Haurietis Aquas, on the Devotion to the Sacred Heart, opens by quoting the prophet Isaiah, who writes about the life-giving waters of the suffering Messiah. Isaiah declares, “You shall draw waters with joy out of the savior’s fountains,” (Is. 12:3) and “every one who thirsts, come to the waters.” (Is. 55:1) The other prophets too, Joel, Ezekiel, and Zechariah, speak of these life-giving waters of the Savior. Jesus Himself quotes the prophets saying that whoever believes in Him “rivers of living water will flow from within him.” (Jn. 7:38) What is this life-giving water? The early Church Fathers recognized the water that flowed from His Sacred Heart as the grace from the sacraments. It is a symbol of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The living water is the sacramental water of Baptism, in which the Holy Spirit cleanses us of sin and comes to dwell within us. Jesus tells Nicodemus we must be born again of “water and spirit,” just as He tells the Samaritan woman at the well, “the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (Jn. 4:14)

It is not a coincidence that the feast day of the Sacred Heart of Jesus comes in the liturgical calendar just after Pentecost, commemorating the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the depths of Jesus’ Heart. The feast of the Sacred Heart is also the first Friday within the Octave of Corpus Christi, celebrating the real presence of Jesus’ body and blood in the Eucharist. This is fitting, as the Sacred Heart of Jesus is part of His physical body. In that sense, when we receive the Eucharist, we are receiving the Sacred Heart of Jesus. (H.A. 122) The blood that pours forth from His pierced heart at Calvary symbolizes the “blood of the new covenant” that Jesus offers up at the Last Supper, in which we partake at every Mass.

By the 17th century, the Faith was in tumult, particularly in France, dealing exteriorly with the Protestant Revolution and interiorly with the Jansenist heresy. Jansenism denied the free will of man, advocating that only those predestined by God would receive sanctifying grace. These teachers purported a moral rigorism, resulting in many people being denied Holy Communion due to their faults and sins. It was against the backdrop of this narrow worldview, constricting the sacraments of grace to only a few, that Jesus appeared to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque and said, “Behold this Heart, which has loved men so much, that It has spared nothing, even to exhausting and consuming Itself, in order to testify to them Its love.” Jesus shows that He offers Himself up, not for a few, but for the love of all people, and desires them to receive Holy Communion frequently. He requested that a feast day be established in honor of His Sacred Heart, and that people should go to Holy Communion on the first Friday of every month, as well as regularly keeping Holy Hour adoration. Jesus did, in fact, renew the life of the Church, enlivening the hearts of believers, with this devotion to His Sacred Heart.

Jesus also made a number of famous promises (more than the generally assumed twelve promises) to St. Margaret Mary regarding those who would have a devotion to His Sacred Heart. These included, among others, bringing peace to their families, consoling them in their troubles, granting them all the necessary graces in their lives, helping them become more fervent and perfect in their faith, and inscribing their names on His Heart forever. In a letter from May 1688, St. Margaret Mary wrote about “the Great Promise” that Jesus told to her. He said, I promise you that My all powerful love will grant to all those who will receive Communion on the First Fridays, for nine consecutive months, the grace of final repentance.” As wonderful as this promise is, we should remember this is not an automatic guarantee to heaven. We should discern away any superstition involved with this. As Fr. James Kubicki, S.J., the National Director of the Apostleship of Prayer, writes this is “not magic but the natural consequence of a life lived in union with the Heart of Jesus.” We are not called to superstition, but to devotion.

Our devotion to the Sacred Heart is most fully expressed in our devotion to the Church. The blood and water of the Eucharist and Baptism make us anew. His Spirit dwells within us giving us eternal life. This is the fulfillment of the great prophecy of Ezekiel. The scripture says, “And I will give them a new heart, and put a new spirit within them; I will take the stony heart out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh.” (Ez. 11:19-20) And so it is with us. Our hearts are conformed, and remade, in the sacraments to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

As Jesus hung on the Cross, He cried out “I thirst.” In the lens of Christianity, Jesus’ thirst is to save souls. We can in a very real way console the Sacred Heart of Jesus and His thirst to save souls, through our reparation and devotion to His Sacred Heart. (Miserentissimus Redemptor, 13) Properly understood, Baptism and Eucharist transform us, who partake in them, into the Body of Christ. Through the life-giving waters of Jesus we are made clean, and through His body and blood we are transformed. In this, the beloved disciple, St. John, is our example; resting our heads on the breast of Jesus, listening closely to the sublime beats of His Heart, He makes us new creations.

The Blood and Water of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (long version)

It was at the Last Supper that John, the disciple “whom Jesus loved,” reclined on the Sacred Heart of Jesus. (Jn. 13:23) Just hours later, at the foot of the Cross, it was John again who witnessed Jesus’ Sacred Heart being pierced by a lance. As he recorded, But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.” (Jn. 19:34) Modern medicine suggests that Jesus had likely suffered from hemorrhagic shock from the severe scourging and blood loss, which probably caused pericardial fluid to build around His heart. Thus, it is not surprising that when His heart is pierced that blood and water gushed forth. The early Church Fathers interpret this sacramentally, as symbols of the blood of the Eucharist and the waters of Baptism. The sacraments and the Church sprung from the wound of Christ’s Heart. St. Augustine made the connection that just as Eve was drawn from the side of Adam during his “deep sleep” (Gen. 2:21), so too, was the Church, the bride of Christ, drawn from the side of Jesus in His death. It is in the waters of Baptism and the blood of the Eucharist that the Church is born and sustained. The Church appropriately venerates the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which “He allowed to be pierced by our sins,” as the definitive symbol of divine love. (CCC 2669)

The 1956 encyclical Haurietis Aquas, on the Devotion to the Sacred Heart, opens by quoting the prophet Isaiah, who writes about the life-giving waters of the suffering Messiah. Isaiah declares, “You shall draw waters with joy out of the savior’s fountains,” (Is. 12:3) and “every one who thirsts, come to the waters.” (Is. 55:1) The other prophets too, Joel, Ezekiel, and Zechariah, speak of these life-giving waters of the Savior. Jesus Himself quotes the prophets saying that whoever believes in Him “rivers of living water will flow from within him.” (Jn. 7:38) What is this life-giving water? The early Church Fathers recognized the water that flows from His Sacred Heart as the sanctifying grace giving eternal life. It is a symbol of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The living water is the sacramental water of Baptism, in which the Holy Spirit cleanses us of sin and comes to dwell within us. Jesus tells Nicodemus we must be born again of “water and spirit,” just as He tells the Samaritan woman at the well, “..the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (Jn. 4:14)

It is not a coincidence that the feast day of the Sacred Heart of Jesus comes in the liturgical calendar just after Pentecost, commemorating the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the depths of Jesus’ Heart. The feast of the Sacred Heart is also the first Friday within the Octave of Corpus Christi, celebrating the real presence of Jesus’ body and blood in the Eucharist. This is fitting, as the Sacred Heart of Jesus is part of His physical body. In that sense, when we receive the Eucharist, we are receiving the Sacred Heart of Jesus. (H.A. 122) The blood that pours forth from His pierced heart at Calvary symbolizes the “blood of the new covenant” that Jesus offers up at the Last Supper, and which we partake in at every Mass.

One of the great Eucharistic miracles in the history of the Church is the miracle of Lanciano. This happened in the 700’s in Lanciano, Italy at a monastery, interestingly enough, under the patronage of St. Longinus, who is traditionally believed to be the Roman centurion that pierced Jesus’ side with his lance. In the miracle, a doubting monk was offering up the Sacrifice of the Mass, and at the consecration, the bread and wine turned visibly into real flesh and blood. Although centuries old, and never hermetically sealed or stored with preservatives, the specimens never deteriorated. In 1981, with the permission of the pope, a major scientific examination was done on the relics to determine their true nature. The results came back that the samples are real human blood and flesh. Moreover, the flesh was determined to be myocardium of a heart wall and endocardium tissue of a heart cavity. The Eucharistic miracle revealed true flesh and blood of a human heart.

Yet, in the 17th century Church, particularly in France, human hearts had grown cold and become stony hearts. The faith was in tumult, dealing exteriorly with the Protestant Revolution and interiorly with the Jansenist heresy. Jansenism denied the free will of man, advocating that only those predestined by God would receive sanctifying grace. They taught a moral rigorism, resulting in few people receiving Holy Communion due to their faults and sins. It was in this narrow worldview, constricting the sacraments of grace to only the few, that Jesus appeared to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque revealing, for all, His Sacred Heart, saying, “Behold this Heart, which has loved men so much, that It has spared nothing, even to exhausting and consuming Itself, in order to testify to them Its love.” Jesus shows that He offers Himself up for the love of all people, and desires them to receive Holy Communion frequently. He requested that a feast day be established in honor of His Sacred Heart, and that people should go to Holy Communion on the first Friday of every month, as well as regularly keeping Holy Hour adoration. Jesus did, in fact, renew the life of the Church, enlivening the hearts of believers, with this devotion to His Sacred Heart.

Jesus also made a number of famous promises (more than the generally assumed twelve promises) to St. Margaret Mary regarding those who would have a devotion to His Sacred Heart. These included, among others, bringing peace to their families, consoling them in their troubles, granting them all the necessary graces in their lives, helping them become more fervent and perfect in their faith, and inscribing their names on His Heart forever. In a letter from May 1688, St. Margaret Mary wrote about “the Great Promise” that Jesus had spoken to her. He said, I promise you that My all powerful love will grant to all those who will receive Communion on the First Fridays, for nine consecutive months, the grace of final repentance.” As wonderful as this promise is, we should remember this is not an automatic guarantee to heaven. We should discern away any superstition involved with this. As Fr. James Kubicki, S.J., the National Director of the Apostleship of Prayer, writes this is “not magic but the natural consequence of a life lived in union with the Heart of Jesus.” We are not called to superstition, but to devotion.

We are called to devotion, and reparation, to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. As Jesus hung on the Cross, He cried out the first line from Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” He singles out this psalm specifically because it prophesied about His Crucifixion. Later in the psalm, David writes about Jesus’ heart saying, “I am poured out like water… my heart is like wax, it is melted within my breast.” (Ps. 22:14) Yet, as Psalm 22 opens with the affliction of the Messiah, it ends with His victory saying, “May your hearts live for ever!” Jesus also cried out from the Cross “I thirst.” In the context of Christianity, Jesus’ thirst is to save souls. We can in a very real way console the Sacred Heart of Jesus and His thirst to save souls, through our reparation and devotion to His Sacred Heart. (Miserentissimus Redemptor, 13)

This devotion is also related to the Divine Mercy devotion. The Divine Mercy image shows red and white light emanating from Jesus’ Heart. Many have linked this, again, to the blood and water from the piercing of Jesus’ Heart, and the grace from the blood of the Eucharist and the waters of Baptism. The Divine Mercy prayer makes this link explicit to Jesus’ Heart: “O Blood and Water, which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus, as a fount of mercy for us, I trust in You.” (Diary, 84) The devotions to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Divine Mercy are very much related and similar, with difference only in emphasis.   

The blood and water that flowed out of Jesus’ Sacred Heart at the Crucifixion remind us of the sacramental and sanctifying grace of the Church. With the blood of the Eucharist for redeeming and the water of Baptism for cleansing, we are brought into supernatural life through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Sacred Heart is the chief symbol of this divine love of the incarnated God and His Sacred Humanity. (H.A. 54) Properly understood, Baptism and Eucharist transform us, who partake in them, into the Body of Christ. This is a fulfillment of the great prophecy of Ezekiel. The scripture says, “I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses… A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you..” (Ez. 36:25-27) Again, Ezekiel says, “And I will give them a new heart, and put a new spirit within them; I will take the stony heart out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh.. and they shall be My people, and I will be their God. (Ez. 11:19-20) Through the life-giving waters of Jesus we are made clean, and through His body and blood we are transformed. God gives us a new heart, and a new spirit. Our hearts of stone are transformed through the divine love of His Sacred Heart. The beloved disciple, St. John, is our example; we can rest our heads on the breast of Jesus, listening closely to the sublime beats of His Heart, making us anew.

Confirmation, the Sacrament of Spirit, Strength, and Combat – November 15, 2015

“Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 8:14-17)

Some question whether Confirmation is really a sacrament. Martin Luther retained the ceremonial aspect of it, but rejected its sacramentality, saying, “God knows nothing of it.” Even some modern Catholic thinkers have referred to it as “a sacrament in search of a theology.” After all, Christians receive the Holy Spirit in Baptism. Why then do we need a second anointing of the Holy Spirit in Confirmation? What is its purpose? Part of the criteria the Church used in delineating the seven sacraments was that each had to have been instituted by Christ Himself, as when He instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper, and when He was baptized in the Jordan River. But, when and where in the Gospels did He institute the sacrament of Confirmation? Maybe its critics have a point. Yet, the Church has continually upheld Confirmation as a sacrament. In the 13th century, St.Thomas Aquinas took up this very question of the defense of Confirmation as a sacrament in his Summa Theologica (Summa, III, q.72). Later, the Church Council of Florence in 1439, and again, the Council of Trent in 1566 both affirmed the sacrament of Confirmation as one of the seven sacraments. These declarations have remained as the foundational Catholic understanding of Confirmation all the way up to modern times. As the Catechism now states, “Baptism, the Eucharist, and the sacrament of Confirmation together constitute the ‘sacraments of Christian initiation’.” (CCC 1285) Confirmation is one of the three sacraments in which the Christian is initiated into the Church. Baptism, Eucharist and Confirmation are a unity which complete our initiation. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, unlike the Latin Church, this unity is expressed by administering these three sacraments together, one after another, for initiation into the Church. In Roman Catholicism, however, they are spread out over time, generally speaking, beginning with Baptism, then later, Eucharist, and finally, upon entering adulthood, Confirmation. The reception of Confirmation completes and perfects the Baptismal grace. (CCC 1285) So, Baptism and Confirmation are two distinct sacraments, but linked together in the conferral of grace. As the passage (above) from the book of Acts demonstrates, the disciples in Samaria had already been baptized, but Peter and John came to lay hands on them so that they would receive the Holy Spirit. They were then, in fact, “confirmed” into the Church, received the Holy Spirit, and completed their Baptismal grace.

Confirmation is sometimes called “the sacrament of Christian maturity.” It is the sacrament that ushers the Baptized into the fullness of the Christian community, through the special strength of the Holy Spirit it identifies us more closely with the public mission and witness to Jesus Christ. Lumen Gentium says that, in Confirmation, those confirmed are “more perfectly bound to the Church,” so that, they are “obliged to spread and defend the faith, both by word and by deed, as true witnesses of Christ.” (LG, 11) The Confirmed are to share more completely in the mission of Christ and the fullness of the Holy Spirit, so as to give off “the aroma of Christ.” (CCC 1294) In his letter to the Corinthian Church, St.Paul calls the newly converted, and presumably newly Baptized, “infants in Christ.” (1 Cor.3:1) Baptism is our beginning point to the life in the Spirit. St.Thomas also compares Baptism as the point of our spiritual regeneration, and Confirmation as the point of our spiritual maturity. Baptism is our entrance, and Confirmation is our graduation. St.Thomas says of Confirmation that “man is perfected by Confirmation.” (Summa, III, q.65, a.3)  In Baptism, we become children of God, and in Confirmation, we become friends of God, sent into the world to give witness and carry on the mission of Christ.

Jesus promised that His Spirit would lead us to all truth, and we must take into account the veracity of His word in the Church seeing fit to establish the sacrament of Confirmation. The Spirit does not make mistakes. Confirmation, as with all the sacraments, contains an essential form to make the rite valid. The signs and symbols of the rite confer the grace they signify and signify the grace they confer. The catechumens are confirmed by the bishop by anointing their foreheads with a perfumed oil, a sacred chrism blessed by the bishop, and the laying on of hands by the bishop (just as Peter and John, as the first apostolic bishops, laid hands on the disciples of Samaria), and with the words “Be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit.” (CCC 1300) The sign of anointing with the chrism imprints a spiritual seal upon our souls with the indelible mark of the Holy Spirit. (CCC 1304) For this reason, because it imparts a special character upon us, just as in Baptism, it is only given once. (CCC 1305) In ancient times, a seal was a symbol of a person, or the symbol of who that person belonged to, such as, soldiers marked with their leader’s seal, or slaves with their master’s seal. (CCC 1295) So too, now, Christians are confirmed with the mark of the Holy Spirit in order to seal us as His, consecrated to Christ. In the old mosaic covenant, an indelible mark was left on the body in circumcision, but now, in the new covenant, an indelible mark is left on the soul with the seal of the Holy Spirit. St.Paul speaks about this saying we are “marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit” (Eph.1:13), and “marked with a seal for the day of redemption.” (Eph. 4:30) To the Corinthians, he similarly says, “But it is God who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us, by putting His seal on us and giving us His Spirit in our hearts as a first installment.” (2 Cor.1:21-22) This idea of the seal of the Holy Spirit hearkens back to the Old Testament, where God prophesies through Ezekiel “I will put My spirit within you.” (Ez.36:27) The seal of the Holy Spirit is also promised to us as divine protection in the eschatological future, that is, at the end of the world. (CCC 1296) In Revelation, the angels of judgment are told, “Do not damage the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have marked the servants of our God with a seal on their foreheads.” (Rev. 7:3)

The effects of the sacrament of Confirmation are most commonly associated with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles at Pentecost. (CCC 1302) As St.Luke describes the dramatic event in the book of Acts:

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” (Acts 2:1-4)

The Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles in startling fashion with a rush of violent wind and tongues of fire. This is in fulfillment of Jesus’ command to “stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” (Lk.24:49) In obedience, the Apostles had been persevering in prayer, hiding in the upper room for fear of persecution. However, once they were sealed with the power of the Holy Spirit “from on high,” they emerged from the upper room and began to preach powerfully and publicly to the crowds of people. St.Peter, in particular, is the first to fearlessly witness to the crowds about the crucified Jesus, the forgiveness of sins, and the gift of the Holy Spirit. He begins by quoting the prophet Joel:

‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.” (Acts 2:17; Joel 2:28)

The Holy Spirit had strengthened the Apostles and the disciples, who were now unafraid to proclaim and defend the faith publicly. The flinching Apostles became towering super-Apostles, for through these twelve men, Christianity spread throughout the whole world in the midst of, and in spite of, terrible persecutions and martyrdom. St.Thomas discusses the miraculous change in their behavior due to the Holy Spirit. He says, “whereas in Confirmation he receives power to do those things which pertain to the spiritual combat with the enemies of the Faith.” (III, q.72, a.5) Confirmation anoints us with the power for spiritual combat, and to persevere amidst the trials and tribulations of giving witness to Christ in a hostile world. Confirmation is the sacrament to strengthen us for combat.

Jesus Himself, in fact, did institute the sacrament of Confirmation, albeit not by bestowing it directly, but with the promise of a future fulfillment, for He could not give the Spirit until after His Resurrection and Ascension. (Summa, III, q.72) Jesus promises His Apostles beforehand, “Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.” (Jn.16:7) Jesus promises that once He is gone He will send the Spirit of Truth (Jn.14:17), the Advocate (Jn.14:16), the Paraclete, the Comforter and Counselor, to clothe them with power “from on high.” And again, Jesus tells His Apostles, “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” (Jn14:25-26) Jesus promises this, even though His Apostles had already been baptized, as implied in Him washing their feet and His saying to them “you are clean.” (Jn.13:10) Yet, Jesus promises more. He promises to clothe them with the power of Heaven, the Holy Spirit, which is ultimately fulfilled on that day of Pentecost.

This is the birth of the active Church, the Church militant. From there, the Church spread through the ancient world, first to Jew, and then, soon after, to Gentile, and all the way up till today, to all nations, universally across the globe. Yet, the Holy Spirit did not continue to anoint the disciples in such a dramatic, miraculous and visible fashion as at Pentecost. From that point on, the Apostles begin to invoke and confer the Holy Spirit through the imposition of hands, or the laying on of hands. This is truly the birth of the sacrament of Confirmation. As Acts says, “Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 8:14-17) St.Paul and the other bishops of the apostolic Church also conferred the Holy Spirit upon the Baptized through the imposition of hands. As St.Paul’s letter says, “For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands.” (2 Tim. 1:6) We see this again in Acts, “When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.” (Acts, 19:6) The “laying on of hands” is similarly mentioned in other places throughout the New Testament, such as in the letter to the Hebrews. (Heb.6:2) It was an integral part to the early, apostolic Church. It was part of The Way. The laying on of hands is the sacrament of Confirmation. It remains part of our way today. Confirmation is an extraordinary and charismatic conferral of grace, that completes our Baptism, unites us more closely with Christ, confers an indelible character upon our souls, gives us a special permanent status within the Church, strengthens our faith to engage in spiritual combat and to be able to publicly and boldly defend it. (CCC 1303) In short, it perfects the character we receive (in Baptism) as part of the common priesthood of the faithful. (CCC 1305) Our initiation is complete. Our status and our service in the common priesthood of the faithful are officially consecrated to God through the power of the Holy Spirit. With the winds of the Spirit in our hearts and the tongues of fire in our minds, we are ready now, ready to leave the safe confines of the upper room and witness to Christ in the public marketplace.

Baptism, Initiation into the Common Priesthood – October 15, 2015

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Mt.28:19-20)

“Baptism imprints on the soul an indelible spiritual sign, the character, which consecrates the baptized person for Christian worship.” (CCC 1280)

The sacrament of Baptism initiates us into the mystery of Christ. It is the essential rite to eternal life, and the beginning point of the whole Christian experience. (CCC 1213) In Baptism, God first demonstrates His self-communication to us. It imprints His indelible mark upon our souls configuring us to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The character of Christ is irrevocably sealed upon our minds and souls, configuring us to a new and eternal spiritual reality. (CCC 1272) It transforms who we are. A permanent ontological change takes place to our very being. Just as a material object or person is visibly sealed with a mark, defining who or what it is, or whose property it might be, so too, in Baptism, God marks our immaterial souls invisibly and permanently, claiming us as His own. It sets us apart. It can only be done once, and nothing can undo it. It is a necessary transformation. Jesus attests to it, saying, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.” (Jn.3:5) Baptismal water is a graced sign, a real symbol, which efficaciously applies the invisible grace it signifies. It does in reality, the sign it points to. We are washed of Original Sin, purified of all of our sins, and regenerated to eternal life. It consecrates us into the sacramental character of Christ’s paschal mystery, impressing upon us His saving grace of the Cross. (SC, 6) We are sealed with Christ’s imprimatur, conforming us to the God-man. (2 Cor. 1:21-22) He alone conquered sin, and death itself, so that by faith and grace, we too, who are flesh and blood mortals, may partake in His supernatural life. Baptism is necessary because Christ alone overcame death. We need His divine life in us, so we too will rise to eternal life. Baptism anticipates our own resurrection. Through it, we are grafted into communion with the Easter mysteries. The mystery of Christ becomes alive to us, and in us. Christ in His life, and in His Passion and suffering, and all that He was in His eternal and divine humanity, begins to unfold and live out in our individual lives. When we are immersed into the water, we are brought into His death, and rising from the water, we are brought into His life and resurrection. (Rom. 6:3-4) As the Catechism says, “It signifies and actually brings about death to sin and entry into the life of the Most Holy Trinity through configuration to the Paschal mystery of Christ.” (CCC 1239) We are made into a new living, Trinitarian reality; spiritually reordered towards the Father, configured to the Son, and filled with the Holy Spirit. We become adopted children of God, by faith and grace; baptized into the Son of God, we are made partakers in the divine nature by proxy, as He is in reality.

We are indeed remade into this new holy status as children of God, and temples of the Holy Spirit, and co-heirs with Christ. It makes us, first and foremost, Christian, and members of the Church, the Body of Christ, and gains us access to divine grace in the rest of the sacraments. It is our foundation for the supernatural life. But, it is also the first moment of a lifelong phenomenon of conversion. Baptism is more than just a single event, or a static state; it transforms us in such a way that we are perpetually drawn deeper into the living reality of Christ. It allows us to engage in the sacramental life and realize the mysteries of Christ in our being. It establishes a new dynamic in our consciousness, where our everyday circumstances are reinterpreted and contextualized within the divine humanity of Christ. Our humanity is elevated and divinized. We are afforded special offices. One of these is our incorporation into the common priesthood of the faithful, the baptized, and the ordinary. With a sacred chrism, the oil consecrated by the bishop, the newly baptized is anointed into Christ as “priest, prophet, and king.” (CCC 1241) We become sharers in Christ’s one eternal priesthood. As Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church, says, “The baptized, by regeneration and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are consecrated as a spiritual house and a holy priesthood.” (LG, 10) Even as Christ is the one true and eternal Mediator between God and man, He still graciously saw fit that we should also participate, to varying degrees, in His priestly office. As part of our baptismal right and dignity, we can exercise that priestly office by virtue of our association in Christ’s life, passion, and redemptive sacrifice.

But, what are our priestly functions? Scripture and the Church say we are to make spiritual sacrifices. We are to offer up interiorly all of our actions, words, deeds, suffering, successes, and all that we do, for the glory of God and for the intercession of souls. The magisterium teaches that the baptized should “present themselves as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.” (LG, 10 ) Every common thing in our ordinary existence can be extended towards God as a sacrifice in our common priesthood. We can offer up everything, including our prayers, sacrifices, fasting, bodily weaknesses, illness, even patiently enduring the things that annoy us, or nearly anything that may otherwise seem useless and worthless in the eyes of the world. God’s eternal priesthood is mediated in the implements of our material world. Our physical operations can have spiritual significance. We can exercise our priesthood, in such a way, that we can, in effect, “sacramentalize” all that we do. That is, we spiritualize our activity through faith and with the intention of offering reparation to God. This is how we become living sacrifices. As the magisterium explains, we can “exercise that priesthood in receiving the sacraments, in prayer and thanksgiving, in the witness of a holy life, and by self-denial and active charity.” (LG, 10) By ourselves, a branch separated from the vine, our actions have no spiritual power. But, united with Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, our actions can be spiritually efficacious for reparation of our sins and the sins of others. This is our role in the communion of saints. We are mediators. Through initiation in Baptism and the imprinting of Christ’s priestly seal upon us, we become priests. We can use our willful intention to please God, in a particular activity, invoke the anointing of the Holy Spirit, and raise that up as a form of worship. So, we can, for illustration, use our being hungry on any given afternoon, or say, being stuck behind a slow driver in our morning commute, to invoke the Holy Spirit, and offer these annoyances up to God for the sanctification of souls. These are just two minor examples, but the possibilities are nearly endless. St.Paul explains these spiritual sacrifices. He says, I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” (Col.1:24) Christ deemed us worthy to take part in His priestly ministry, and left for us a portion of the redemption to offer up to the Father. He made us a living Church, actively carrying on His mission. Christ’s presence and power remain hidden now sacramentally, just as it did in His life then when He walked the earth.  Some people today see just bread and wine, and not the body and blood of Christ, as before they saw just the carpenter’s son, and not the Son of God.  Christ continues His priestly mediation for the world today through us. In this vein, St.Paul is dutifully acting out his priestly character. He offers intercession and mediation for the Church, through his own sufferings, in unity with the sufferings of Christ. We are called to do the same. Christ has deputized us. He appointed us His priests. It is our role to live as mediators and intercessors here on earth in imitation of Him. We are to stand in the breach for those entrusted to us.  Baptism is everything, but it’s also just the beginning.

The Common Priesthood of the Faithful – 18 August 2015

Do you know that you are a priest? Many of us Catholics are unaware of our own priesthood. Yet, this office of priesthood was conferred upon us in the Sacrament of Baptism, and later again, reaffirmed in the Sacrament of Confirmation. Of course, most of us are far more familiar with the first aspect of the Baptismal rite. That is, when we are immersed into the baptismal water, or the water is poured over our heads – and we’re blessed three times in the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. By this sacred rite, we are made into “a new creation” (Rom.5:17), our sin forgiven, and “grafted into the paschal mystery of Christ.” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 6) For as Jesus said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.” (Jn 3:5) However, there is a second aspect to the Baptismal rite, in which we are anointed with the holy chrism oil. Then, as the holy unction is applied to our heads, the priest or deacon prays over us, “As Christ was anointed priest, prophet and king, so may you live always as a member of His holy people, sharing everlasting life.” And with that anointing, we become sharers in Christ’s threefold offices of priest, prophet and king. In particular, a share in the eternal priesthood of Christ is stamped upon our souls. This is not a metaphorical or allegorical priesthood, but a true priesthood; Christ’s priestly character is indelibly marked upon our souls. We should absorb this idea to the very core of our being: You are a priest!

The priesthood of the faithful is not an obscure idea. The Magisterium itself spells out the priestly nature of our Christian vocation. The Catechism refers to the “whole community of believers” that “through the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation” are “consecrated to be ..a holy priesthood.” (CCC 1546) We, as Catholics, are definitely use to thinking of a strict separation of powers between the ecclesiastical hierarchy and the laity; the former, with priestly powers, and the latter, without. Part of this is from the emphasis, and perhaps over-correction, by the Church and the Council of Trent in response to the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther and the Protestants of the 16th century rebelled, of course, against the Catholic hierarchy and the validity of the Sacraments, among other things. In defense, and rightly so, of Apostolic succession, the Priesthood and the Sacraments, some of these ideas, such as a priestly community of believers, were somewhat forgotten. Now, centuries later, this is part of the spirit of Vatican II in trying to recover these long-faded notions and empowering the laity. Documents such as Lumen Gentium, the “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church,” and later, Pope John Paul II’s Christifideles Laici, or “The lay Faithful,” are attempts, partially, at retrieving this common priesthood of the faithful.  Of course, this idea goes back way beyond the Middle Ages too. It goes all the way back to the Apostles and the Bible itself. Even St.Peter, the chief Apostle, passionately implores us as if we could hear him now, “..and, like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet.2:5) Later, he again tries to impress upon us, and emphatically so, the ontological nature of who we truly are, “But you are ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation..’” (1 Pet.2:9) This is unequivocal and direct. It should really shake us to our foundation, and awaken us from any stupor that there’s nothing special in being a Christian. We should remind ourselves often of our dignity through Christ. Clearly, this was not a foreign concept to the Apostles then or to the Magisterium now. It is a consistent dogma understood throughout the history of the Church: all baptized believers are priests of Christ.

But then, what does it mean to be a priest? And how do we, as the laity, exercise this common priesthood today? The Protestants of the 16th century clearly committed a grave error in dismissing the ecclesiastical priesthood. As the saying goes, they threw the baby out with the bath water, or in this case, they gutted the Church to undo some Clericalism. Yet, in a sense, as bad as that is, they helped to restore, perhaps indirectly over time, the charism of the lay faithful. Now, there are two participations – which we Catholics understand to differ, in essence – in the one priesthood of Christ: One being the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood of bishops and priests; and the other, the common priesthood of the faithful. The ministerial priesthood is at service to the common priesthood by building up and leading the Church, and administering the Sacraments. Moreover, the ministerial priest, by virtue of Holy Orders, acts “in persona Christi Capitis.” (CCC1548). That is, Christ Himself – in the priest – is present to His Church. Yet, we the laity, are also priests. We participate in both the one, eternal priesthood of Christ as well as the salvific mission of the Church. But, how to do this? As the New Evangelization is calling us, we have to rediscover, if you will, the way the first apostles and disciples lived this common priesthood. As priests, we are to offer praise and sacrifice to God in intercession for ourselves and for the salvation of others. We are to be charitable. And so, in a very real way, we can offer mediation for the sins and unbelief in ourselves and members of our family, our friends, or really anyone in the world, or in purgatory for that matter. Our lives should be a dynamic interaction of presenting ourselves to God through holiness, prayer and sacrifice. St.Peter’s instruction should be our mantra; to be a “royal priesthood,” by building up ourselves as “spiritual houses,” and offering “spiritual sacrifices.” This is the key to our common priesthood of the faithful.

Bearing in mind the priestly nature of our Christian vocation as well, St.Paul exhorts the Romans, “to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.” (Rom.12:1) We should consecrate our ordinary, daily lives to God. We should offer up all that we do each day as a sacrifice to God on behalf of ourselves and for each other. The Magisterium again points the way. Lumen Gentium and the Catechism exhort the laity, “For all their works, prayers, and apostolic undertakings, family and married life, daily work, relaxation of mind and body, if they are accomplished in the Spirit – indeed even the hardships of life if patiently borne – all these become spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (LG 34/CCC901) Our priesthood is a priesthood of the ordinary. Our sacrifices are spiritual ones, offered up and borne within the daily routines of our ordinary lives. The beauty of the priesthood of the faithful is that we can carry out our sacrifices in the midst of whatever situation we are living in. Our priesthood does not require an altar or a temple per se, but only the simple moments of our ordinary lives, consecrated within the temples of our bodies and souls. Our family life, our jobs, our commutes, our joys, our stresses, our relaxation, even our simple actions, walking, breathing, all can be consecrated and offered to God. As many as the varied activity of a person’s life – no matter how small or how mundane – so can be offered up as a spiritual sacrifice pleasing to God. We can exercise our priesthood in cooking dinner and cleaning the house. Indeed, we should consecrate to God all of our activities for the whole day – each day – starting first thing in the morning and until we go to sleep. Our priesthood is simple. It’s lived out in the ordinary implements and raw materials that we find in each day in the midst of the world. But, in order for our priestly actions to be efficacious they must be united with the one, true priest, Jesus Christ, and His life and culmination in the sacrifice of the Cross. For as Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches… because without Me you can do nothing.” (Jn 15:5) We simply must offer the intention of living these – our daily lives, actions, thoughts, deeds – for God.  This is the mission of the laity, in the common priesthood of the faithful, to unite our lives – wherever we may be and whatever we may be doing – with that of Jesus Christ, and by virtue of our priesthood, offer up ourselves as spiritual sacrifices. In this way we can build up the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church, and plead for the salvation of others. For as the Magisterium teaches, “And so, worshipping everywhere by their holy actions, the laity consecrate the world itself to God.” (LG34/CCC901)